Three members or future members of Team USA for the upcoming Olympics in Tokyo this summer spoke out about their experiences with recent anti-Asian hate and discrimination — something that has been on the rise throughout the country since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Olympic karate qualifier Sakura Kokumai, men’s gymnastics favorite Yul Moldauer and wheelchair tennis player Dana Mathewson all detailed similar experiences and incidents they have faced in recent weeks while speaking at the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee media summit on Wednesday.
They, like the countless others in the sports world who have spoken out, aren’t looking for pity. The goal, they said, is simply to keep raising awareness.
“People are getting hit, people are getting slashed, people are getting killed,” Kokumai said. “We are, in a way, being targeted, and the violence, harassment and discrimination is real. So, again, I just wanted to raise awareness that this can happen to anybody. And we all just need to be [there] for each other and protect each other.”
‘My job is to represent this country’
Moldauer — who competed collegiately at Oklahoma and was a member of the 2018 national team — shared an incident he faced on Instagram last month, in which he said a woman cut him off on the road.
After he honked at her, and the two later pulled up next to each other at a red light, Moldauer said the woman yelled at him to “go back to China.”
Though he admitted that it’s tough to know he has to represent Americans who feel the way that woman on the road do, Moldauer isn’t trying to let that bother him — and knows how important speaking out about that incident and others like it really is.
“For me, you know, my job is to represent this country. So I take a lot of pride into it,” Moldauer said Wednesday. “And when I heard those words, I just kinda laughed, and shrugged them over. Because at the end of the day, my job is to represent this country no matter what. No matter if an individual feels like they need to say something, or harass me, I'm just gonna push that away, because there are so many other great Americans in this country that I get to represent.”
Like Moldauer, Kokumai — who was born in Hawaii but lived in Japan as a child — said that she was personally harassed and called racial slurs while training last week at a park.
“A man just started to kind of verbally harass me in a way. I was kind of shocked by it,” she said while getting emotional. “I kind of laughed it off, and there was no point of escalating the situation. So basically I just sit there, had him say what he needed to say, and it wasn’t until later that I noticed what happened. Because there were racial slurs at the end of the incident.”
Mathewson, who is Chinese American, was diagnosed with Transverse Myelitis when she was 10 and has been in a wheelchair paralyzed from the waist down ever since. The San Diego native, who competed in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil, said she hadn’t faced much discrimination due to her Chinese heritage until the pandemic started.
The “jokes,” she said, were new to her.
“Experiencing any form of discrimination because of that has been something new to me,” she said. “I've never had someone ask me, like, ‘Oh, did you go to China and bring this pandemic back to us?’ Or making jokes about the fact that I must have eaten a bat, and that's why everyone here is experiencing this.
“I know that my family has experienced jokes like that. I'm very lucky that jokes are pretty much the length of what I've had to experience. I haven't experienced outright hatred, but even jokes are hurtful.”
Asian Americans and members of the Pacific Islander community in the United States have seen significant rises in both in-person and online hate and harassment since the pandemic began. A shooting spree at several Atlanta-area spas last month — in which eight people were killed, almost all of which women of Asian descent — and other attacks have only caused more fear and outrage.
“It is sad that, in a country that was built on all sorts of different cultures, Chinese or Asians being one of them, it's sad that those people are now not being treated as equals,” Mathewson said. “And that's something that we can kind of use this platform to represent and change those ideals.”
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